A review by Alex Harrod for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

dANTE OR dIE present

Side Effects

 

Devised and performed by: Antigone Avdi; Laure Bachelot; Betsy Field; Terry O'Donovan; Simon Rice

 

Director: Daphna Attias

 

Rich Mix

10 - 13 February 2011
 

Trinity Laban

March 1, 2011

 

 

Side Effects, quite simply, is unlike anything else you will see at the theatre this year. With this performance, dance-theatre troupe dANTE OR dIE has produced a strikingly unusual but surprisingly engaging work based around what could otherwise be seen as a rather pedestrian topic – medication. Informed by an impressive amount of research, as well as a good deal of prior knowledge from cast members and others involved with the production, Side Effects deals with the simple issue of how much medication we take during our lifetime and, as you may have guessed, its potential consequences.

Before we go into the details of the play itself, a quick mention must go to Rich Mix, where the performance took place. Just a stone's throw away from Shoreditch High Street station, Rich Mix is the kind of trendy-looking place you may often glance approvingly at as you walk or drive past without ever knowing quite what it is. Well, I can assure you that it is well worth visiting! Also home to a state-of-the-art cinema, Rich Mix is a sprawling building which offers regular theatre, music and dance performances; education programmes; an exhibition space and a large bar which could hold its own with any of its fashionable City contemporaries (complete with free to use table tennis tables which my friend and I, of course, took full advantage of).

When we were seated in one of the two upstairs performance venues and had taken in the intelligently-designed flat stage ('flat' in both senses of the word – it consisted wholly of lines on the floor which represented the layout of a family living space), members of the cast emerged to hand out medicine glasses containing 'pills' - Skittles and Tic Tacs - for the audience to enjoy. This was a lovely, humorous touch which allowed those watching the show to briefly interact with those about to take to the stage; it was a simple but effective way of breaking the 'fourth wall' and therefore putting the audience at ease, decreasing the distance between performer and observer. It was obvious from this introduction that the five cast members and everyone else involved in staging Side Effects wanted to give their all to the production and were determined to hold the audience's attention whilst putting their important message across. Once the performance began, they achieved this instantly.

From the very first scene – perhaps one of the finest of the entire show – the various elements of Side Effects came together seamlessly to captivate its audience in a way that would have been difficult to imagine beforehand. I didn't think that insomnia could ever be described as 'beautiful', but that is exactly what Simon Rice's portrayal of a man suffering from it was. This opening passage, in fact, represented everything that was successful about Side Effects as a whole. The complex yet fluent movements of the performers were wonderfully choreographed and came across as both artistic and realistic, the sleepless man tossing and turning and becoming tangled with his partner as he irritably recites and repeats his insomnia medication and the time at which he takes it. As with the rest of the piece, the dancer's actions are augmented here by Yaniv Fridel's sparse, delicate electro soundtrack, which always struck just the right note to accompany whatever was happening onstage. The same is true of Adam Povey's sympathetic lighting, which is like much of the performance – simple but highly effective. Other than a couple of brief biographical monologues, Side Effects has virtually no substantial dialogue – the performers usually only speak to state what medicines they are taking and for what reason. It was vital, therefore, that the other visual and audio elements, such as music and lighting, combined successfully, especially given the gravity of the issue at the heart of the production. Fortunately, Daphna Attias's skilful directing allowed them to do just that and the performers were able to express themselves and their meaning with elegance.

This lack of dialogue in Side Effects is a bold but well-considered move; it was amazing how many different audience reactions the five cast members were able to provoke with so few words. Negotiating a number of ordinary life situations for which we often enlist the help of legal drugs (including waking up, exercising and birth control), they gave a performance that was moving, distressing and sometimes very funny. Each and every actor involved contributed towards making Side Effects a success, but special mention must go to Simon Rice – the insomniac and bodybuilder – and former real-life pharmacist Betsy Field. Both gave convincing performances throughout, which culminated in each facing the consequences of a lifetime of medication in a mesmerising finale.

As far as weaknesses go, it is hard to find any of significance. There were certain points where the volume of the music made it difficult to hear exactly what drugs and ailments were being listed but if this is the biggest downside of a performance, it would be fair to say that it has generally been a success. Even the fact that there was little in the way of plot was a positive rather than a negative – dANTE OR dIE's production is beautiful because of its unconventionality, not in spite of it. It is important to note that Side Effects is not just for fans of dance. Whoever you are and whatever your theatrical tastes, this show is sure to enthral and to leave you thinking about your own medicinal habits. Brilliant.

 

Box Office: 020 7613 7498 (Rich Mix) / 020 8469 9500 (Laban)
www.richmix.org.uk
Rich Mix
35-37 Bethnal Green Road
,London, E1 6LA
www.trinitylaban.ac.uk
Laban
Creekside
London SE8 3DZ
£10/£8 (Rich Mix) / £12/£8 (Laban)

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